This unusually thoughtful piece of writing brought to you by my being home alone four evenings in a row.
One of my friends commented to me today that what she has observed from my parenting is that it is not a game of King of the Hill. I thought that was an interesting observation, and I’m glad she sees that.
Before I offer up an explanation, I must emphasize what I believe to be the most important thing about my task as a parent: my role in my child’s life is to give him a reflection of what his relationship with God should be. This idea comes from the well-known Christian book Shepherding A Child’s Heart, in which Ted Tripp argues that parents are agents of God and must dispense His Word, not their whimsy, in the things they require of a child. For example, discipline for something that isn’t wrong, just annoying, is inappropriate. The point is twofold: children must be taught to care for and heed their parents’ every command in the same way that they must fear the Word of the Lord, but parents must not abuse their God-given role. In the end, if words come from my mouth, my kid has to think it’s a big deal, because that’s how he needs to think about God’s words when I’m no longer the intermediary.
Sounds like a recipe for King of the Hill, though. Except for Tripp’s observation that parents only use their authority appropriately when they are making demands of their children in keeping with the demands of the Word. That qualification, coupled with a good measure of pure laziness on my part (laziness that would rather not enforce two thousand commands a day if one thousand could possibly suffice) has led me to settle on three questions I ask myself before I give Jacob a command. Obviously this only applies to this little toddler stage of life where there aren’t big, complex, sticky heart issues at play, just a tiny person exploring a big world.
I described to my friend an unusually productive morning Jacob had. He pulled all the washcloths and ziploc bags out of the drawer in the kitchen, after casually removing some offending half-chewed pasta onto the same spot on the floor. He pulled the book and table runner off the coffee table, ripped up a couple tissues that were lying on said table, placed the chess pieces in their proper place on the floor, and tossed all the old peppermints from the candy dish he enjoys on a daily basis. He relocated all the swimming suits from my bedroom floor to my bathroom floor, depositing one choice piece into the actual toilet, and in a moment when I wasn’t looking he pulled up a couple of my freshly transplanted romaine seedlings. All this and maybe more I’ve forgotten within the space of thirty minutes. None of it was done in a spirit of defiance or rebellion or wildness. He was just going about his day as I was going about mine. This afternoon when we got back from the lake and Jacob was asleep I put everything back in its place, a project requiring less than 5 minutes of my time.
That description sounds like a disaster, but there were plenty of things he did not do. He did not play with knives, he did not climb on the dishwasher door, he did not destroy the plants on the porch, he did not throw his breakfast on the floor, he did not play the piano with anything but his fingers, he did not poke at the stereo speakers or bang on the TV, he did not walk out in the parking lot, he did not climb the neighbor’s steps or reach for the air-conditioner motor, he did not splash in the toilet or touch the toilet scrubber, and he did not pull the toilet paper off the roll. If he’d attempted any of those things I would have put a stop to it right away. That list alone is enough to make me feel like an over-bearing dictator, but then I remember the typical morning we had and the scene of chaos it conjures up in my memory makes me feel like I’m striking a healthy balance.
Choosing what to allow and what not to allow has become a simple process in my thinking, and it’s governed by three questions, as I already mentioned: Is it dangerous? Is it destructive? Is it wasteful? He needs to grow up learning to care for his life, to care for his possessions, and to care for the resources God entrusts to Him. Later on issues of thoughtfulness toward others can come into play, but for now I think I’ve covered the essentials. It keeps me mindful of cultivating a sense of peace, fun, and adventure, it keeps me careful not to over-use my authority over him, thus hindering his freedom, and it keeps me asking myself if I am acting as God’s messenger in his life, or just trying to make life easier for myself. So for what it’s worth, those are my three questions, and life is just happy chaos around here most of the time.